Context might just be the new Mike Skinner (and we mean that in a good way). He talks to us about his tracks, buddying up with fellow Norwich lad Ed Sheeran and drops us a playlist of his top old-school garage anthems.
You rep Norwich in your lyrics – what was growing up there like?
I moved there when I was like 13. To be honest, when I was younger in Norwich all I did was skateboard, listen to rap music, drink White Lightning and smoke hash in the park! I had a great time!
Was there an established music scene there? How did you get into MC-ing?
To be honest my interest was more in raving than rapping. Norfolk has a massive rave culture – organisations like Planet Yes used to put on loony raves in fields so we’d all convoy down there, get smashed and sleep in the car. I got into MC-ing because I got sort of thrown out of home so moved in with my missus and my mate. We lived in this proper ropey house with no plaster on the walls and worked in a call centre. I basically just wanted to articulate my experiences, and the experiences of my mates, in a way that made sense for us.
Everyone seems to be getting back into that old-school garage sound. Have you always been a fan?
Yeah man. I remember hearing garage when I first went to secondary school. I was too young, obviously, and too suburban to be really deeply involved in it. To be honest, I’m not like a “garage rapper”; I make tunes over all kinds of styles and tempos. I’m just a fan of good music in general – whether it’s Paramore or P-Money.
What do you think defines your sound?
I guess maybe the honesty, or maybe the delivery. I think I say the types of things that other rappers just don’t. Who else is writing tracks about driving about in a Ford Fiesta with your mates sniffing ket in the back seat and seeing people bleeding outside kebab shops?
I drove to London to shoot all the cameos for that video. I was having dinner with [Guardian journalist] Kieran Yates and mentioned how I’d emailed Ed to see if he wanted to be in the video, but I hadn’t spoke to him for years since he used to do little gigs in Norwich. So she rang him and he just said, “Yeah, come to the studio tomorrow, I’d love to be in it!” I actually went to the studio and he’d just recorded a track that morning so he played me it to – that track was ‘Small Bump‘.
You’ve got a particular gift for storytelling – how important is narrative and flow to you? Would you ever write a typical ‘guns, bitches, bling’ rap?
Giggs said it best: “I guess when you live in fucking Disneyland, you rap about Micky Mouse.” Narrative is everything to me.
You’ve gotten a lot of hype from people like MistaJam and Huw Stephens – how do you feel about that?
The response has been amazing! Hearing great words from Plan B or The Streets or other artists I grew up listening to has been unreal. It was quite suprising seeing Ellie Goulding tweet a track of mine and post it on Facebook!
You’ve moved to London for music – do you ever miss Norwich?
I miss Norwich all the time. Some of closest mates in the world live there and like my Mum and that. In Norwich I could happily sit about playing Tony Hawk skateboarding for a few weeks and be out of my nut and achieve fuck all. But in London, every day you see people rushing around and making things happen, and it kind of forces you to swim along in the stream.
If you weren’t doing music now, what do you think you’d be doing?
Probably something insanely boring in an office!
CONTEXT’S TOP FIVE OLD-SCHOOL GARAGE ANTHEMS
Listen to the YouTube playlist here.
1. Nu-Birth – Anytime
2. Sia – Little Man (Wookie remix)
3. The Streets (with DJ EZ) – Pure Garage
4. Artful Dodger – R U Ready
5. So Solid – Skyla
Words: Zing Tsjeng